The strike of senior university lecturers - concluded just in time to avert shutting down for the entire year publicly sustained institutions of higher learning - ought to supply the professors with masses of material for future research and pad plenty of publications to help them justify the higher pay they won. If these professors approach the subject with due academic objectivity, they will have to own up to the fact that their nearly three-month-long refusal to teach (their most-extended-ever boycott of the lecture halls) constitutes a textbook case on how not to manage a crisis and how not to resolve a conflict. The situation was mishandled badly by all concerned, except Histadrut Labor Federation chief Ofer Eini, the only one to walk away with enhanced esteem and clout. As was always inevitable, the only direct big losers are the students. This strike - which broke 1994's 74-day record - could have been defused sooner had the university administrations merely dared highlight the hypocrisy being displayed by their highest-ranking scholars. Only once this was belatedly done did the universities manage to bring the dispute to a head. The unstated truth throughout was that the professors didn't ever fully strike and that they continued to receive half their pay the whole time. Considering that their salaries - even prior to the deal they have now achieved - were not puny, they were not too badly off. They continued to arrive at their respective campuses and conduct their research, which is where their prestige is primarily invested. What they refrained from doing was teach, in the hope of pressuring the students to fight their fight and exert pressure on the Treasury. For most of the last three months, too few Israelis have been aware that this was a deluxe strike, by those at the very apex of the academic hierarchy, at the unequivocal expense of those at the very bottom. It only culminated when the universities were about to close their doors and no longer facilitate the sham whereby the professors were allowed to carry on working partially, unconscionably punishing those most at their mercy and least able to help themselves. Only the inexorable march of time, which was about to dictate the need to write off the semester and the expected reimbursement of NIS 1.2 billion in tuition fees, prodded the universities to take action at the eleventh hour and enable yesterday's return to work. On Thursday night, the universities e-mailed their students, informing them that all residual campus activity was about to be discontinued. Within an hour, the senior faculty began negotiating in earnest. Had the strikers been kept off campus from the outset, the dangerous brinksmanship which threatened an entire academic year would have been averted. The year's first semester is lost, anyway (it officially ended January 18). Only extreme artificial resuscitation is keeping it seemingly, minimally alive. From hereon there will be no vacations, not even summer break. This may be trifling for the senior professors, but students, many of whom continued to pay rent and lose work time during months of uncertainty, count on summer jobs and alternative housing arrangements to spare them rent. Their loss is irredeemable. It needs to be stressed that Israeli students, mostly IDF veterans, are older than their overseas counterparts and many support young families. The fact that they were betrayed by their ostensible role-models, and abandoned by the universities to which they pay tuition, will only deepen their alienation and disaffection and hone the message that it's each for him/herself, without a hint of solidarity with other components of the academic collective. The senior lecturers have grabbed a disproportionate slice of the public-funding cake, regardless of the fact that the future of Israeli higher education resides in improving the incomes of tenured junior staff and of even more grossly exploited freelancers, whom the universities unabashedly abuse at ludicrous pay, with no social benefits, advancement prospects or research opportunities. These hired "outsiders" are saddled with about a third of all teaching duties. They tend to be younger and are the most likely academics to be lured by the undeniable brain-drain enticements from abroad. The resources shelled out by the taxpayers will now go disproportionately to the wrong academic recipients and won't begin to address Israel's very serious higher education anomalies. The new work-dispute, declared Friday by the junior professors, proves it.